Irritable bowel syndrome, often abbreviated as IBS, refers to a number of gastrointestinal manifestations that can occur on a long-term basis (chronic condition). One may experience diarrhea or constipation, as well as abdominal pain, bloating and cramps. Medication can help improve the discomfort but it is important to be aware of the fact that the condition can be successfully managed through an adapted diet.
Overview of IBS
IBS is a chronic condition involving the small intestine. The condition can range from mild to severe, sometimes interfering with everyday activities. Despite the severity, the condition does not present an increased risk of cancer. Medication and counseling are recommended for IBS, as well as stress-relieving techniques and diet restrictions.
What are the signs and symptoms of IBS?
Even though the signs and symptoms of IBS might vary, there are some general ones to be on the lookout for. As mentioned, one can suffer from cramps and abdominal pain (these symptoms can disappear or be reduced in intensity upon passing a bowel movement). Additional symptoms include bloating, diarrhea or constipation, and modified stools (presence of excess mucus) (R).
What are the causes of IBS?
The exact cause behind the appearance of the IBS has yet to be found. However, sufferers diagnosed with this condition might present a number of causative factors. These include the abnormal functioning of the intestinal muscles and nerves, inflammation (small intestine), bacterial or viral infections, gut microflora changes (reduction in the population of good bacteria).
Flare-ups (due to triggers) and risk factors
A flare up is defined by the aggravation of the IBS symptoms, and it can be triggered by food allergies (wheat, dairy, etc.). Certain foods, such as those that ferment or have a lot of acids can cause similar problems. Other potential triggers include stress and hormonal fluctuations (especially with menstruation).
There are a number of risk factors to take into consideration as well. The symptoms female patients experience is related to age, gender, family history, and mental health issues.
Women under the age of 50 are more likely to be diagnosed with IBS, especially when there is a family history or pre-existent conditions (such as depression or generalized anxiety disorder).
Why it is important to address the manifestations of IBS?
Left untreated, irritable bowel syndrome can have a negative influence on the overall quality of life. It leads to mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression, which in turn will make the condition even more severe. Among the recommended solutions, there are psychotherapy, counseling, biofeedback, progressive relaxation exercises, and mindfulness.
Medication can relieve the symptoms of IBS. The physician might prescribe fiber supplements, laxatives, anti-diarrheal drugs, anticholinergic medication, tricyclic antidepressants, colon relaxants, antibiotics, etc. It is important to follow the treatment as instructed, without making adjustments on your own.
The Top IBS Diets – the key to feeling better
Specific diet changes can help relieve the symptoms of IBS, allowing one to feel better overall. When it comes to establishing a diet for IBS, there are a number of things to take into consideration. First and foremost, you have to keep track of the foods that trigger your symptoms.
This can be easily achieved with the help of the CareClinic health app (more information below). You should also pay attention to your fiber intake and drink more water, as dehydration can make the manifestations of IBS worse (R).
Type of diets recommended for IBS sufferers
A diet plan must be selected in accordance with your manifestations (not every diet will suit anyone who suffers from IBS, especially since some people experience constipation, others diarrhea or a combination of both).
The high-fiber diet can help in case of constipation, as fiber is known to facilitate the intestinal transit. The recommended intake of fiber varies between 25 and 30 grams per day, but most people do not exceed 15 grams. Fiber-rich foods include fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains.
In the situation that you experience bloating from the increased fiber intake, you can concentrate on soluble fiber. These are found in fruits and vegetables, but not in whole grains and represent an integrated part of the IBS-C diet. There are many delicious recipes that can be prepared from these food categories, so you will not feel limited whereas your choices are concerned (R).
For people who frequently experience bloating and diarrhea, the high-fiber diet is not a solution. The IBS-D diet is based on a reduced intake of fiber, and especially of the ones that are soluble (they dissolve in water, no extra bulk to the stool).
For the IBS diarrhea diet, sources of soluble fiber include black beans, lima beans, Brussels sprouts, avocados, sweet potatoes, broccoli, turnips, pears, kidney beans, apples, berries, carrots, figs, oats, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, and barley. You can also reduce the risk of diarrheic episodes by taking medication for this purpose, especially if your meals are rich in fiber (but do not become accustomed to relying on such medication, as this is not a healthy choice).
No gluten IBS Diet
A gluten-free diet can help improve the symptoms of IBS, at least for some people. Gluten actually refers to a family of proteins which is found in grain-based products, such as bread and pasta. Modern research has found a connection between gluten intolerance and the irritable bowel syndrome; for this reason, you might want to consider eliminating gluten from your diet.
A simple way to see if your symptoms are caused by gluten is to eliminate it from the daily meals. You have to pay attention to all sources of gluten, including barley, rye, and wheat, carefully reading the label of all packaged products. If you are a fan of bread and/or pasta, do not despair, as there are plenty of gluten-free options available (R).
The Elimination diet
This is perhaps the easiest way to determine which foods lead to specific IBS symptoms. Upon starting the elimination diet, you will have to eliminate suspected foods for a certain amount of time. In general, it is recommended to pursue this approach for at least 12 weeks, trying to notice a difference in your symptoms.
As the majority of us follow a varied diet, it can be difficult to identify potentially-harmful foods from the daily diet list. It might help to look for sources of insoluble fiber, such as whole grains, beans, and legumes, certain fruits and veggies. Other foods & beverages that can pose a problem include nuts, chocolate, and coffee.
You might not know this for a fact but the constant intake of high-fat foods, and especially in copious amounts, increases the risk of IBS and poses additional health risks (obesity for example). As this diet has a low content in fiber, it can lead to constipation and other manifestations characteristic for the irritable bowel syndrome.
Fatty foods should not be part of the daily menu, especially if you frequently experience alternating episodes of constipation and diarrhea. On the other hand, by reducing the fat intake, you will not only improve the symptoms of IBS but lose weight and ensure cardiovascular health at the same time. As part of your low-fat diet, you should consume lean meat, low-fat dairy, fruits, and vegetables, as well as grains (R).
Low FODMAP diet
FODMAP is an acronym, which stands for “fermentable, oligo-, di-, monosaccharides and polyols”. These are actually carbs, which can cause damage to the intestines and lead to specific IBS symptoms. Upon consuming foods that contain these carbs, one is more likely to suffer from bloating, flatulence and diarrhea.
If you have decided to try the FODMAP diet for IBS, you should restrict the foods containing such carbs for at least six to eight weeks. What types of foods should you avoid?
First, you have to pay attention to all sources of lactose, such as yogurt, milk, ice cream, and cheese. Opt for the lactose-free versions instead, as the supermarket shelves are filled with such opportunities nowadays (R).
You should also refrain from consuming certain fruits, such as nectarines, plums, mangoes, watermelon, and peaches. Vegetables, such as mushrooms, artichokes, broccoli, onions, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower are a no as well. Nuts (pistachios and cashews in particular), high-fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners, legumes and wheat-based products (pasta, bread, and cereals) complete the list.
Note: this is also known as the vegan diet for IBS, so you organize your diet sheet accordingly.
Keto diet & Paleo Diets
The keto diet was initially developed for children who suffered from epilepsy but, given its success and basic foundation (low-carb content), it becomes widely used for weight loss. This is a diet involving the consumption of high quantities of fat and protein, and it should only be considered at the advice of a nutritionist/physician.
It has been suggested that the keto diet, due to the fact that it involves a reduced consumption of carbs, might be beneficial for those suffering from the irritable bowel syndrome and especially IBS-D. However, only a trained professional can determine whether this is a suitable choice for you or not.
The Paleo diet is based on the idea that we should eat what our ancestors ate (in the hunting and gathering period), as they did not suffer from any of the modern diseases (associated with the modern diet). People who go on this diet are allowed to consume fruits and non-starchy vegetables, as well as healthy fats and meat. Dairy, grains, legumes, vegetable oils, processed foods, and refined sugar are not allowed.
This dietary approach is not particularly recommended for IBS but, given the fact that one will reduce the overall intake of grains, it might be beneficial. It forces one to turn away from the modern diet, improving the health of the gut microflora. As with the keto diet, only a trained nutritionist or doctor can recommend a particular dietary approach (R).
Keep track of the IBS diet with the CareClinic health app
The CareClinic health app can help you keep track of your IBS diet, and identify which foods are beneficial, and, of course, which are the ones making matters worse. You can record your diet plan within the application and even add a cheat sheet so that you ensure you are eating healthy all the time.
Keep in mind that a healthy diet is beneficial not only for the IBS symptoms but also for additional conditions, such as GERD and diverticulosis. Talk to your doctor about following a specific diet plan and use the application to keep track of all dietary changes. And, remember, a bland diet might not be enough to improve your health, you need to make specific adjustments.
If you would like to get started tracking your diet or the symptoms of IBS, click here to get started using CareClinic’s app.